This is a thought that has nagged at me for years now, ever since I started to compose.
Let me make it clear, I am not referring to what forms are available on a larger scale (e.g. Concerto, Sting Quartet and so on), nor do I mean how do we handle and develop our themes and ideas – all be this closer to what I mean.
I am referring specifically to our use of form and its originality. For example if I say ‘Sonata form’ or ‘Scherzo’, immediately one conjures up a preconception of an inner form – a ‘middle-ground’ form perhaps, if we were to borrow a term from Schenker. Taking a sonata for example, the inner form using the most basic model would be: Exposition (AB-codetta), Development (A’B’), and Recapitulation (AB-coda). However, such middle-ground structures and their subsequent tonal implications seem unsatisfactory in contemporary composition. So, how on this level should we structure music?
Obviously some forms are tied to their preconceptions more so than others, the Scherzo for example is little more than a name nowadays rather than form set in stone. On the other hand the sonata despite its many permutations is still a sonata; it is still tied to the concepts of exposition, development, and recapitulation no matter how blurred the boundaries are. Staying strictly within the realms of ‘absolute music’, – i.e. music with no extra-musical connotations such as the tone poem, or other music in which a narrative governs its structure – if the sonata as a form is redundant in 21st century what do we replace it with?
As soon as we say this, a whole world of possible alternatives to the sonata opens up. Unfortunately many, (though for different reasons) seem equally unsatisfactory as the sonata. For example, opening a concerto with a (strict) fugue would probably be unsustainable. Using an essentially made up form e.g. ABABACDEBA, lacks the academic rigour required in contemporary composition – at least in this ‘middle-ground’. We could develop forms based upon mathematical principals such as the Golden Ratio, but this is more of an overall form (like the scherzo) and so would leave questions regarding thematic coherence relative to the structure.
In short I am at a loss, any suggestions?